Comment: A question of loyalty

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The Independent Online
THE departure of Mike Walker from Norwich City to fill the managerial void at Everton has caused anger and disenchantment in East Anglia, will lift spirits on Merseyside, and raises issues about the relationship between managers and chairmen and, more pertinently, between supporters and club.

As Nick Hornby eloquently put it in Fever Pitch, football fans do not consider the purchase of a season ticket or regular payment through the turnstiles to be the same as buying a cinema seat or a rail ticket. They are not simply paying for 90 minutes' entertainment - who would do that at Arsenal, anyway, you may ask? But what they believe is that they are buying a stake in their chosen club. It is an act of faith, which they expect, or at least hope, will be repaid.

Loyalty is a dubious concept in professional football. Players and managers can transfer their allegiance to those who were once their deadliest rivals for an injection in their bank account. And why should they be pilloried for that? Other professionals, particularly in the entertainment industry, are not subject to the same questioning of their morality.

Walker chose the tabloid press last week to make his position clear on the subject of loyalty. 'I was at Colchester for 17 years - and all that got me was the sack when we were top of the league,' he told readers of the Sun. 'I owe nothing to anyone. I've earned what I've got,' he said in the Mirror. But that, as far as Norwich's long- suffering supporters are concerned, tells only half the story.

What Walker, quite legitimately, was talking about is the relationship between employer and employee. And given that football history is littered with chairmen willing to sack managers on a whim or in deference to public opinion, he is utterly right to point out that loyalty is a two-way street.

Yet what about the people who really pay his wages? The disgruntlement of Norwich fans concerns the rejection of a loved one in favour of a suitor with, in their view, little more than aristocratic pretensions. And why give Norwich the elbow, when they are commonly regarded as a model for football clubs of the future?

A more lucrative contract is the obvious answer. Norwich are a frugal outfit while Everton, whatever their current fortunes, are a big club with ambitions to live up to a glorious tradition. Walker can hardly be blamed for sensing an opportunity to improve his standard of living while simultaneously tackling a major professional challenge. But nor can Steve Coppell, chief executive of the new League Managers' Association, be blamed for trying to persuade Walker to honour his contract. Coppell believes that an improvement in behaviour has to start somewhere, and it might as well be with his members. Perhaps the club chairmen - seducers and sackers alike - will take note.

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